South Africans and Tasmanians had many exchanges from the time Van Diemen's Land was settled, as both places were British colonies and South Africa was on the route from Van Diemen's Land to Britain. Exchanges were mainly through trade, but some South African convicts were transported to Van Diemen's Land, and some migrants moved to Tasmania – such as Edmund Morris Miller, born in South Africa, later professor at the University of Tasmania. In the South African War almost 900 Tasmanian soldiers and nurses went to the battlefield and a few remained, such as Matron Elizabeth Orr, who nursed in South Africa for many years before returning to Tasmania.
It was not until after the Second World War, however, that large numbers of white South Africans and also people from Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, unhappy with the apartheid system and/or worried for their safety, emigrated to Tasmania (and elsewhere in Australia). Numbers were especially high after South Africa withdrew from the British Commonwealth (1961), disasters such as Sharpeville (1960) and the Soweto riots (1976), and the changeover to majority Black rule (1994). Many were business people and professionals, and in 1996 South Africans were the eighth largest national group in Tasmania.